Today the world commemorates the International Day of Non-Violence, a day set aside by the United Nations resolution A/RES/61/271 of 15 June 2007. Through this commemoration, we are all called to disseminate the message of non-violence, including through education and public awareness”. The resolution reaffirms “the universal relevance of the principle of non-violence” and the desire “to secure a culture of peace, tolerance, understanding, and non-violence”.
This year, the day finds our society decimated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The world is rushing to make sure everyone has access to a safe and effective vaccine. In Zimbabwe, under the shadow of the pandemic, the government has collapsed key democratic institutions that give legitimacy to the democratic order. The Executive has ruled the country with an iron fist through a series of statutory instruments. Legitimate Members of Parliament have been recalled and replaced with unelected politicians that speak and act only for themselves. Constitution Amendment Number 2 has been used to undermine the judiciary while civic space is drastically reduced. Activists are jailed for expressing themselves. Our democracy is in the intensive care. In this situation, many people feel they cannot breathe and yearn for ways to raise their voices without resorting to violence.
As we draw closer to the 2023 elections, the threats of violence keep increasing. Many unemployed young people find themselves being lured by material benefits to give themselves over to politicians for violence. It is in this situation that the ideals of non-violence must provide our young people with the courage to stand up, non-violently.
In these difficult times, if the peaceful sit back, the violent seize control and set our country on fire as in previous years. With the memories of political violence still fresh and the victims and survivors still grieving, ZimRights appeals to all political leaders to resist the temptation to seduce young people into violence. In the past years in which the National Youth Service was operationalised, we have seen how training centres like the Border Gezi Training Centre became fertile ground for mentoring young people into champions of violence. We have documented the violence that followed and its impact on everyone.
As we observe the International Day of Non-Violence, we call on young people not only to shun violence but to also engage in active non-violent initiatives to defend our shrinking civic space. Simple acts like registering to vote and encouraging others to vote and then turning up to vote are another way of celebrating and advancing non-violence. Where democratic tools for participation exist, violence loses its attraction. Where authentic dialogue is celebrated, violence loses its merits. Zimbabwe does not need another liberation struggle to realise the sanctity of human dignity and the respect for fundamental human rights. It needs all of us to mature in the advancement of the values of peace, human rights, and democracy.
A few days ago, ZimRights launched its voter mobilisation campaign in Lupane and Gwanda in which hundreds of young people committed themselves to mobilise in their communities and to participate in democratic processes. We encourage the government of Zimbabwe to complement these progressive initiatives by lifting the suspension of elections and respecting the role of civil society organisations in ensuring citizens participate non-violently in the welfare of their community. Civil society organisations are the way in which people who care about their country organise themselves to participate effectively and non-violently. Societies without vibrant civic groups are in danger of seeing the rise in violence and militarism.
Without government commitment to respecting democratic values, and citizen commitment to democratic participation, the ideals of non-violence lose their value as the society slides into authoritarianism.